"Russian President Vladimir Putin abuses empathy to identify the weaknesses of Western democracies and to achieve his goal: fear that compensates for the lack of respect," writes Timo Järvinen, CEO of the Finnish empathy analytics company NayaDaya Inc.
Emotions live at the heart of experiences, interaction, and behavior. Through emotions, we are connected to ourselves, each other, and our world. Emotions are present everywhere, in well-being and suffering.
Through empathy, we share this human process with each other. We place ourselves into the shoes of people, recognize their different perspectives, and vibrate at the same frequency, for example, of fear and relief. At its best, empathy makes us treat others as we want to be treated.
Most people are capable of empathy: their inherent tendencies promote compassion and prosocial behavior. A small percentage of people is unable to empathize. Yet they may be very much capable to identify and exploit other people’s emotions and their underlying causes.
The war in Ukraine has highlighted the two faces of empathy. Compassion and help are flooding Ukraine from all directions, but no decisive step is being taken: soldiers from other countries are not crossing the Ukrainian border, due to Putin's intimidation of nuclear weapons and even World War III.
Russia knows this. Putin represents the dark side of empathy: he recognizes and exploits the worst fears of Western democracies, including us, Finns. Putin is also manipulating his own citizens and troops with his lies.
Putin is driving Finns into a situation where there are only threatening options left: If we join NATO, how will Russia react? If we do not join NATO, is the fate of Ukraine waiting for us?
What is Putin striving for? His goals are hard to understand if you try to find logic in them. The benefits of war cannot outweigh the disadvantages.
Maybe it's not about rationality at all. Maybe Putin needs appreciation and respect first and foremost. During the Soviet era, respect and fear were synonymous with each other. Once Russia’s power has waned and the world has changed, there are no longer any means to get and maintain respect. What remains is the last and most familiar of the means: fear.
Perhaps Putin’s goal is simply to create fear – the experience of being feared. Perhaps Putin would rather see his people suffer and his soldiers die than experience inferiority to Western leaders. Fear makes him a significant, right now perhaps even the most significant person in the world. He would not have achieved this position by any other means.
A dictator with a nuclear weapon whose primary goal is to be feared is a daunting combination. However, it must be remembered that every statement made by Putin or by those close to him must be interpreted against the background that they are intended to create fear in the maximum possible way. It is obvious that in the coming weeks, months, and years we will hear frightening words and threats. Still, that doesn’t mean the threats will be materialized. For Putin, fear is an end in itself, a measure of respect.
What should the Finns do? Do we live in uncertainty and fear, as victims of manipulation, on a leash, giving Putin the satisfaction he seeks – to be feared?
When Putin places himself into our position, goes under our skin, and uses our fears against us, we must do the same: Step into Putin’s shoes and act to our own advantage. We refuse to be puppets; we make our own decisions. We put in front of him what stops him. We speak the language he and his people understand.
From the perspective of actually solving the problem, the most effective would be to offer Putin what he needs and make it possible in some other way than by threatening and fighting. The key word is respect – the solution would be respect without fear. However, in the current situation, it is impossible to show respect. However, if at some point there is an opportunity to allow Putin to withdraw while still retaining his face, holding on to his honour or even strengthening it, it is good to keep this in mind. However, we should not remain waiting for this in the context of Finland's own decisions.
Empathy has two faces. In the wrong hands, empathy is a weapon by which people are exploited. In this insensitive game, human experiences have only instrumental value.
If we take genuine responsibility for the emotions and experiences we produce for each other, empathy is an inexhaustible source of compassion, collaboration, and success in companies, organizations, society, and the global community.
True empathy makes us come together in times of need and joy. Those who step into the shoes of people and operate from genuine empathy are our servants, the solvers of our common problems, and the makers of a better future.
In them we can trust.
The author of the blog post is Timo Järvinen, CEO of the Finnish empathy analytics company NayaDaya Inc.
CEO, Co-founder, NayaDaya Inc.
NayaDaya Inc. empowers companies and organizations to manage customer, employee, and citizen experiences through Empathy Analytics™. The unique method focuses especially on customer and employee loss, the Great Resignation, via emotions, science, and data. By stepping into the shoes of people, it’s possible to reveal diverse experiences and significances, to predict behavior, and to target actions responsibly and effectively. Empathy is a powerful way to create value, commitment, successful transformations, and profitable growth. Further information at https://www.nayadaya.com/.